|Remembering my friend Ed Koch|
|Wednesday, February 06, 2013|
By Luis Miranda
My friend, and Mayor, Ed Koch.
For years, I had seen him on television.
I had seen him at various events, where I was one of many in attendance.
I knew his history, and then one day for an hour, I sat with him, Ed Koch, for an interview to become his Special Advisor for Hispanic Affairs. It was the beginning of his third term as mayor, after an election in which Hispanic voters had overwhelmingly cast their ballots for him, and he had pledged to focus on the needs of our community. From one moment to the next, I had gone from being an “activist” to a part of the Koch administration.
I hit the ground running.
Some Hispanic leaders, including the then-publisher of El Diario-La Prensa, criticized Koch daily. They believed that he did not do enough for the Hispanic community and that he was not acting on the recommendations made by his own Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
One day during breakfast, in which I wore the face of a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, he looked over at me and offered this note of counsel: “Put all of your eagerness, care and intelligence in what you are doing, and forget about the critics.”
From that day on, my attitude changed. I decided that it was more important to do what was right than to act to please the critics.
The circumstances of our work brought us closer. I toiled day and night, traveled everywhere with him to public functions, and represented him in every corner of the city, speaking on his policies and of his commitment.
His personality, too, drew me in. I greatly enjoyed our meals during visits to Gracie Mansion, and the many lunches we had at El Castillo de Jagua en Loisaida.
Little by little, Ed Koch became my friend, and I his. I delighted in hearing his stories, and he was always entertained by my own tales of my family.
I traveled with him to Central America during civil wars, and met with Latin American leaders each time any one of them visited the Big Apple. In fact, with the then-mayor of Bogota, Andres Pastrana, we organized the first international mayors’ conference on drugs. I became engaged in Koch’s campaign to abate crime in the city, and also in his rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing. I helped in identifying the sites on which half-a-dozen schools would be assigned in northern Manhattan. And under his direction, in 1986, I aided in organizing information that was disseminated to thousands of undocumented immigrants in their pursuit of amnesty.
I worked tirelessly in the unsuccessful attempt to have him become the first mayor in the city to serve four terms. When we lost the primary to David Dinkins, he named me to the board of the Health and Hospitals Corporation so that I would continue to serve the city that he loved and I had adopted as my own.
I always accompanied him to the Puerto Rican Day Parade, and as it turns out, I still have all his guayaberas that, after becoming a private citizen, he gave me.
The last time I went with Ed Koch to the parade, more than a decade ago, he was one of four notable New Yorkers who carried photographs of Reverend Al Sharpton, the Assemblymember Jose Rivera, the then-Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, and my partner and friend for life, Roberto Ramírez, in the parade. They were known as the “Vieques Four,” and had been arrested and imprisoned for protesting against the U.S. Navy’s bombardment of the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico.
For the next 22 years, I continued to see Ed Koch at his apartment in the Village, revisiting our meals and seeing him in larger meetings organized by Diane Coffey for other members of the large governmental Koch family.
He called and sent a gift when my daughter was married a decade ago. Later, when my first grandchild was born, he called to congratulate me, and as the birth took place at the old St. Vincent’s Hospital, just blocks from his apartment, we met for coffee. When I organized a reading to raise funds for my son to be able to continue with his nascent project In the Heights, Koch was there, and when the musical opened off-Broadway, he was in the audience as well. Moreover, when Lin-Manuel received an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University, Ed Koch sat with our family for hours during the ceremony.
As do all New Yorkers, and especially those who loved him dearly, we thought Ed Koch would live forever. I lunched with him just before Christmas and as always, he asked after Lucecita, Lin-Manuel, Miguelito and Luz. I felt that his body was weak, but his mental agility and humor, that which had enamored him to so many, remained untouched.
Now, he will rest forever in Washington Heights, on the island of Manhattan so dear to his soul, and in the neighborhood that he and I both loved.